Media deception and the Yugoslav civil war
Media deception and the Yugoslav civil war (excerpt)
Bosnia was to pay $12,000 in 1992, payments in some later months were as high as $200,000, and total payments per year were ultimately in the millions of dollars. Moreover, Ruder Finn was not the only P.R. firm employed in Bosnia.
It is said that the first casualty of war is the truth. Of course, today with the appalling spectacle of the civil war in Yugoslavia filling our TV screens and newspapers, this old axiom has taken on an uglier, more sinister meaning. If four years ago we could say that the American public was totally uninformed about the conflict ready to unfold, today we can say with equal justification that Americans are doubly or triply misinformed, and dangerously so, about this tragic and completely unnecessary war.
And there’s a very good reason why. A malicious campaign of war propaganda, anti-Serb hatred, and just plain lies has flooded the American media. It has been financed and run through public relations firms, non-governmental organizations and human rights groups with the patronage of various governments, all with the single purpose of mobilizing public opinion on the side of the Bosnian Muslims and Croats, and against those “horrible people,” the Serbs. The truth, the lives of innocent people, and the real dangers of a wider war are all forsaken; the main thing is to twist or to invent the facts so that they fit in with America’s foreign policy objectives in Bosnia. Every step of the way, the media has acted as a co-belligerent, with the aim of whipping up anti-Serbian sentiment and support for military intervention on the side of the Muslim and Croat forces.
Many of the stories on the Bosnian conflict that we read about and see on TV are actually fed to the media by public relations firms. Jim Harff, President of Ruder Finn Global Public Affairs, the public relations firm that handles the accounts of Bosnia, Croatia, and the Albanian opposition in Kosovo, argues that modern wars cannot be fought and won today without good public relations work. “In terms of persuading and convincing the UN to take proper measures,” says Harff, “it’s even more important.” According to U.S. Justice Department records, Bosnia and Croatia pay Ruder Finn more than $10,000 a month plus expenses “to present a positive image to members of Congress, administration officials, and the news media.(1)”
The amount of covered “expenses” is many times greater than the disclosed fee. Harff is himself an insider in Washington, where he has worked for three different Representatives over the past decade. Because of international economic sanctions imposed on the Serbs by the UN—largely due to false stories in the media—the Serbs, ironically, are barred from hiring a public relations firm.
The use of public relations firms to manufacture “the news” and shape public opinion is a dangerous phenomenon that threatens the lives and freedom of people around the world. But it is not entirely new. It was used to devastating effect during the Gulf War. John R. MacArthur, publisher of Harpers magazine and author of Second Front, an exposé of media disinformation during the Gulf War, has compared media coverage of the Bosnian conflict to that of the Gulf War.
note for this excerpt
(1) Harff is quoted here by Mike Trickey in The Spectator (Hamilton, ON), 12 February 1993. All public relations firms working for foreign governments must register with the Justice Department. I found in documents obtained from the Justice Department that while Croatia was contracted to pay Ruder Finn $16,000 a month and Bosnia was to pay $12,000 in 1992, payments in some later months were as high as $200,000, and total payments per year were ultimately in the millions of dollars. Moreover, Ruder Finn was not the only P.R. firm employed in Bosnia. Hill and Knowlton was also contracted early in the war. Waterman & Associates was employed by Croatia. Financial backing came from countries such as Saudi Arabia, which alone funneled nearly $1 billion to the Sarajevo regime from 1993 to 1996, according to the Washington Post, 2 February 1996. Ruder Finn was also contracted by the non-existent “Republic of Kosovo” for $5,000 a month, according to a Justice Department document dated 1 November 1992.
This article was originally published in the February 1995 issue of The College Voice, College of Staten Island, City University of New York.